A man has been arrested on on suspicion of the murder of a Blackpool teenager who has been missing for more than a decade.
Charlene Downes was 14 years old when she disappeared in the Lancashire town on 1 November, 2003. She had left home to meet friends at a local arcade, but was never seen again.
Now, nearly 14 years later, police say a 51-year-old suspect, who lived in the area at the time the teenager went missing, has been brought into custody.
The case has been one of Lancashire Police’s largest and longest-running investigations, bordering on nearly 14 years, with a £100,000 reward still on offer for any information leading to the conviction of her killer or killers.
Police have long suspected Charlene was the victim of a sex ring of older men that targeted younger girls in the seaside town, grooming them with cigarettes, drugs and alcohol in return for sexual favours.
Officers made several arrests for historical sexual offences last year, but they were said to not be directly connected to Charlene‘s murder as the probe into the teenager’s disappearance is also looking at the wider issue of child sexual exploitation in the resort town.
The investigation into Charlene’s disappearance has been riddled with difficulties since it began.
Last month, Charlene’s parents Karen and Robert Downes vowed to sue the police force after learning CCTV footage of her last movements had sat in their archives for 12 years.
Asked to comment on Tuesday’s arrest, Karen Downes told The Independent she was adhering to a request from police to not speak with members of the media.
A 2007 murder trial fell apart due to police errors, leading the Independent Police Complaints Commision (IPCC) to rule that the force’s own mistakes could result in the killer never being found.
The IPCC said the investigation was “handled poorly and unprofessionally” and that the evidence contained a “catalogue of errors which undermined the court case”.
Iyad Albattikhi, a kebab shop owner, was charged with murdering Charlene and Mohammed Raveshi had been charged with helping Mr Albattikhi dispose of the body.
During the trial, the jury was played taped conversations in which Mr Albattikhi joked that he killed Charlene and that she was “chopped up” and her body had “gone into the kebabs”.
In another recording, the shop owner could be heard saying: “I killed her, I killed a girl ... I was just angry.”
His co-accused said on the tapes: “There is nothing left of her. She was here, she died, there really is nothing.”
The jury failed to reach a verdict in the case and a retrial was arranged for April 2008.
However, while preparing for the second trial, senior police officers raised issues with the surveillance evidence, largely obtained by a police informant, David Cassidy, who had worn a wiretap device while questioning the two men.
The complaints resulted in the second trial being abandoned after the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence against Mr Albattikhi and Mr Raveshi. Both men, who insisted they had never met Charlene, were released.
Anyone with information is asked to call 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at crimestoppers.org.